Sailboats on Folsom Lake on Sunday were not only competing for the coveted Camellia Cup but also racing for time on the water this summer.
“We try to get in as much as we can right now, because we know that we won’t later,” said Mark Werder, 35, of Folsom, the commodore of the Folsom Lake Yacht Club.
Early Sunday, his boat Reaction was leading in the Santana 20 class, of which only four were entered in this year’s regatta. (The number indicates the length of the boat, so in this case, 20 feet.)
The small number of large sailboats entered in the Camellia Cup this year indicated how the low water level of Folsom Lake is affecting the sailing community.
Out of nearly 50 vessels racing this year, the majority were either small (13 to 17 feet in length) or centerboard boats (sailboats that have a retractable keel instead of a fixed keel) – both of which are better suited than the longer, keeled crafts to maneuver in shallow water.
“We have a lot of people who have large boats crewing on smaller boats this time,” Werder said.
Scott Fredrickson, 68, of Placerville was one of those sailors. He owns an Olson 25, which he dubbed Viking, but for the Camellia Cup this year, he was racing a J-22, Poco A Poco, owned by George Koch.
“This year may well be an opportunity for the small boats,” he said. “It’s not convenient for keeled boats to get into the water.”
He noted that a low water ramp was opened at Folsom Lake this year, and boats had to be towed down to it to launch.
“By the time you get it in the water, you’re worn out before you can go sailing,” Fredrickson said.
As of 8 a.m. Sunday, when skippers and crew started gathering at the Folsom Lake Yacht Club before the races, the water elevation was 421.36 feet, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, with storage of 539,207 acre-feet. That’s roughly 55 percent of total capacity of the reservoir.
“This is fine now,” John Poimiroo, 67, of El Dorado Hills said of the water level Sunday. “It’s deep enough that there are no hazards on the lake.”
Usually, when there is low water, buoys have to be deployed to indicate where there are trees and rocks that may create a problem for the larger boats.
But the drought this year has affected training for the race.
“We couldn’t get into the water until March, and we lost January and February,” said Poimiroo, who owns a Lido 14 named Glory .
He noted that the water elevation at Folsom Lake had dropped to 370 feet in January. In fact, the lake dropped even lower the next month, with the elevation only at 357.06 feet on Feb. 6, according to the state Department of Water Resources.
It also affected people who don’t sail, like powerboat owner Richard Frankhuizen, 55, of Folsom. He said that when the water level drops to 400 feet, a speed limit of 5 mph is imposed on all watercraft on the lake.
“That’s fine for sailboats, but not for powerboats, water skiers or water boarders,” he said. “We didn’t even go out.”
It was part of the reason why he decided to try his hand at sailing this weekend. He was part of the four-person crew for Four Sirens, a Santana 20 owned by Will Deutsch that was competing in the regatta. It came in last in its third heat Saturday. “I’m hoping that we do better today,” Frankhuizen said.
Most of the competitors Sunday were pessimistic about the boating season this year.
“This is the worst year for boating,” said Fredrickson, who is also the treasurer for the Folsom Lake Yacht Club. “Two years ago, I had boats in the water until Thanksgiving. This year, because of the drought, this season will be short. I think it will be over by the Fourth of July.”
The drought has affected the Folsom Lake Yacht Club in another way.
“The low water has affected membership,” Poimiroo said. “When there is low water, people who aren’t passionate about sailing won’t take it up.”
But for die-hard sailors, they will likely go elsewhere to indulge in their pastime.
“The San Francisco Bay is the best place to sail,” Poimiroo said. “The ocean is not going to go down.”
Call The Bee’s Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.